Singapore Airlines delivers first COVID-19 vaccines to city-state

Airline says it will make available cargo space on its flights and give priority to vaccine shipments across key vaccine trade lanes

COVID-19 vaccines arrive at Singapore's Changi Airport on 21 December. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information)
(PHOTO: Singapore government)

Use this oneFlag carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) delivered the first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to Singapore Monday evening (21 December) on board one of its Boeing 747-400 freighters. This was also the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipment to be delivered to a country in Asia. The vaccines were carried on board SQ7979, a scheduled freighter service from Brussels, Belgium, to Singapore. The flight departed on 20 December 2020 and arrived in Singapore on 21 December 2020 at approximately 1955hours. The shipment was prioritised for loading into the aircraft in Brussels and was given similar precedence during unloading in Singapore. It was then transported to SATS’s cold-chain facility, Coolport, for subsequent storage and ground transportation.

The vaccine shipment is checked at SATS Coolport cold chain facilty in Singapore. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information)

Prior to the delivery, SIA conducted a successful shipment trial on 19 December 2020 on the same freighter flight route. Besides ensuring the smooth and safe delivery of the thermal shippers, also known as the cool boxes, used for the trial, the internal temperature of each box was actively tracked on an end-to-end basis. The sublimation rate of the dry ice in the cool boxes was also measured.

Chin Yau Seng, senior vice president for cargo at SIA, said: “The delivery of this first batch of COVID-19 vaccines to Singapore is an important milestone in the fight against COVID-19, and we are honoured to be able to play a part in this. It also served to demonstrate SIA’s and the Singapore air hub’s readiness for the very important job of transporting and distributing COVID-19 vaccines internationally.”

Over the last few months, SIA has been actively engaging various stakeholders across the supply chain and in pharmaceutical export markets to ensure that it is well-positioned to transport the vaccines with speed and reliability. An internal COVID-19 task force was set up in May 2020 to ensure readiness across all aspects of the Company’s cargo operations, and manage the crucial task of safely carrying these time- and temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments.

For the financial year ended March 2020, SIA Cargo carried about 22,000 tonnes of pharmaceutical shipments across its network. Singapore’s geographical location, coupled with SIA’s extensive network connectivity and the strong pharmaceutical handling capabilities at Singapore Changi Airport, positions it well as a key transit hub for the transportation and distribution of pharmaceuticals. It plays a key part in the air transportation of pharmaceuticals, particularly biologic shipments, from Europe and India to South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

In order to strengthen its pharmaceutical transport product, SIA has been actively expanding its THRUCOOL1 quality corridor network, with the latest additions to the network being Brisbane and Melbourne in September this year. THRUCOOL provides the assurance of safe and reliable transportation of time-sensitive and temperature-controlled pharmaceutical cargo on key pharmaceutical trade lanes.

SIA will make available cargo space on its flights and accord uplift priority to COVID-19 vaccine shipments across the key vaccine trade lanes. This means readying the airline’s seven Boeing 747-400 freighters, as well as the airline’s passenger aircraft fleet which will be deployed on cargo operations to increase the capacity for vaccine transportation where needed.

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